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Inside FutbolInside Futbol


2013 Sees MLS Continue Exciting Growth as Sporting Kansas City Take Crown

For a league boasting the likes of Thierry Henry, Alessandro Nesta and Landon Donovan, an MLS Cup showdown between Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake was likely not in the script. But the drama of Sporting KC's penalty shootout win on a freezing night was a fitting season finale for a league that continues to grow and generate excitement.

Of course, after back-to-back LA Galaxy vs Houston Dynamo MLS Cup clashes, it was a timely change to see two different teams competing for the trophy. Sporting KC, whose manager Peter Vermes became the first to lift the MLS Cup as a player and a manager, have been among the Eastern Conference elite for several years but had previously struggled to find the playoff formula. Their opponents could empathise after amassing playoff disappointments of their own.

Unlike the MLS playoffs of previous years, momentum from the regular season was maintained, with no outsiders sneaking into the final. Both teams finished second in their respective conferences, a fraction behind the first place teams, and caught the eye with their performances throughout the year. While Sporting KC benefitted from New York Red Bulls' surprise loss to Houston, Real Salt Lake took the tough road through the defending champions Galaxy and the impressive Portland Timbers.


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The nature of Real Salt Lake's MLS Cup loss was heartbreaking (losing 7-6 in a seemingly never-ending shootout) but this group will bounce back. Elsewhere in the league, there are plenty of teams with bigger issues to address. DC United, for instance, limped to three wins from 34 games while Toronto FC's miserable run continued via a ninth place finish in the Eastern Conference coupled with the continued development of Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact, their Canadian rivals.

And the level of competition is only going to get tougher. The MLS momentum is undeniable, with new franchises lining up to join the action. In 2015, New York City FC and Orlando City Soccer Club take their MLS bow and become the league's 20th and 21st teams.

Meanwhile, David Beckham has big plans to bring a team to Miami, potentially in partnership with basketball icon LeBron James. Beckham, who spent five years with LA Galaxy, must secure a stadium deal before his franchise dream can become a reality, but his interest in the venture speaks volumes for the league's future.

"We are very excited about the opportunity of having David put together an ownership group and finalizing a stadium site in downtown Miami so that we can end up having what we hope will be our 22nd team in a city that is one of the largest in the country and has a very strong, passionate fan base but there is a lot of work that needs to happen", MLS Commissioner Don Garber explained.

Atlanta has emerged as another likely destination as the MLS moves closer to the 30-team NBA and 32-team NFL. While the standard of play is still a far cry from the Premier League, La Liga and the Champions League, the crowds are still pouring in.

Unsurprisingly, Friday's World Cup draw has helped to put the sport in the spotlight. The US national team was drawn alongside Germany, Portugal and Ghana in Group G, and Garber was also quick to confirm that the league had a role to play in developing quality home-grown players for the national team, despite the influx of foreign players. A strong US performance in Brazil next summer would give the MLS an extra nudge in the right direction, though nothing will come easily given the strength of Group G.

In the meantime, the celebrations will roll on in Kansas City. This season belonged to Sporting KC, who celebrated their victory in front of their home fans. But 2013 also brought down the curtain on some distinguished careers, including Italian legend Nesta, who hung up his boots after wrapping up his second year in Montreal. Given the current MLS momentum, Nesta will not be the last World Cup winner to take their talents to North America.

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